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Taking Over

January 17, 2008

Two weeks ago I devoted part of my column in SF Weekly to discussing why the theatre doesn't produce right-wing plays these days.

Last night at Berkeley Rep, I think I witnessed my very first full-on right-wing -- in the sense of deeply reactionary -- play in a long, long time. Danny Hoch's Taking Over, a solo show about the problems created by the gentrification of urban neighborhoods, is ardently opposed to change. It's a play about keeping communities as they are and locking outsiders out.

I'm feeling very conflicted about the experience of seeing it.

On the one hand, I'm excited to be in the theatre and be shaken up like that. Instead of being fed opinions that I believe in, Hoch presents a view that challenges many of my own beliefs about what constitutes a community and the price of gentrification. How refreshing to come away from a night at the theatre and be forced to reexamine my own situation as someone who moved to Oakland from San Francisco -- so closely.

On the other, I feel that his view of the world is over-simplistic. What's wrong with wanting a safe neighborhood? It's natural to want to feel safe. Why are all the outsider/interloper/tourist characters in Hoch's play painted in a such a negative light? This makes the show very one-sided, even though Hoch plays many different characters during the course of an hour and a half which creates the illusion that he's taking a 360-degree view on his topic. And why present us over and over again with the same banal images of gentrification -- the lattes, the organic muffins, the baby stores selling $700 strollers -- and then fail to move beyond that and suggest potential solutions to what he sees as the problem of changing communities?

With its controversial message, Taking Over could potentially cause audiences to rethink their feelings about gentrification and even cause some people to "stay home" rather than insist on colonizing places like Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the community in which the play is set) and Oakland. Yet the production ends up ranting at us, so its effect is severely diminished. I guess I'm still waiting for a right-wing play that's engaging enough to turn tides.

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2 Comments:

  • (sorry for being anonymous....i forgot my password)

    Oh and sorry I'm just catching up on my internet reading these days.

    Can I ask what you mean? Are you saying that a show or opinion that is anti-gentrification is right-wing?

    IF that is the case (which I'm not sure if it is and I don't want to sound like I'm jumping on you at all)I would say that being anti-gentrification is rather left wing. Waaaayyyy left wing.

    I have to admit I'm of the same mindset as that of Taking Over (although I haven't seen it so, again, I hope I don't sound off the mark here)

    I'm very happy that more new business and housing and cleaner streets and more Muni lines are spreading through out the City (like down 3rd St.) but,
    does that mean that all of the poor African Americans have to leave.....?
    Because, that seems to be case right now.

    If there isn't housing that all of those residents can afford, or places they can work at and the only folks who seem to be making up the neighborhood are increasingly of a lighter color and higher tax bracket then that would seem to be problem. A problem that would make any left-winger quite mad but would leave many conservative right-wingers quite content (yeah that's a stereo-type, I know)

    Safer streets in this case (as described) might seem to mean that only those who are willing to pay for it should have safer streets.

    For those who have lived there long before anybody cared about a new T Line or an Espresso place in the neigborhood, I'm sure it would have been nice to have safer streets too, but technicially, their tax dollars and potential commerce didn't seem to mean as much.

    This of course means addressing deeper issues with extremely long range solutions about society, social programs, school funding, crime, etc. But, it's easier to just tear down the joint, start all over, and let the survival of the financially fitest play itself out.

    Sorry I don't mean to sound like an angry local person of color, I've never lived in those neighborhoods nor did I grow up that poor...pretty close, though.

    But, as a Latino, I've heard many stories about the way (for example) "The Mission used to be"; from my Father who imigrated from Spain and grew up on Florida street and my Mother who imigrated from El Salvador (by way of NY) and worked and hung out in the Mission. While there is still a concentration of Latino's in the Mission Street itself and then spreading to Potrero it's just not the same as it used to be before the Dot-Commers and Hipsters showed up.

    After that it became cool and trendy to live there. Then residents had money. Then rents went up. Homes torn down. Live-work-artist spaces where built that no artist could afford and those consumed more space than needed because they were trendy high-ceilinged lofts.

    Trendy, gentrified establishments showed up to play to that now higher income-uber cool-very much not Latino crowd and eventually those Latinos that didn't already purchase their homes a loooong time ago or have good rent control, had to leave. As you know finding good and affordable place to live in SF is hard these days, especially if you've lived in SF your whole life.

    So hence, the other half of the greater Mission area (Mission to Dolores) isn't nearly as 'brown' as it used to be.

    Yes finally we can walk through Dolores Park safely on any given night of the week, maybe even play a game of tennis. But at what cost, all of the 'color' and culture of the area has been drained....or been relegated to over priced kitchy clothing that the newer residents of the 'hood can pay for.

    Don't get me wrong now. I hang out at some of those places. But, why couldn't we find a way to do it that didn't involve eventually kicking Latinos (an important part of SF culture and history)out?

    Then again if I totally misunderstood you, I just rambled .........sorry about.....

    Your friend,
    Christian Cagigal

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 4, 2008 at 12:23 AM  

  • Hey Christian
    Thanks for posting. You know, it's funny you should pick up on the right-wing thing. When I came to write my essay-review about the show, I ended up saying it was a very left wing play. Depending on how you look at "Taking Over", it's kind of both right- and leftt-wing. In the sense that it preaches an anti-gentrification message, it's very left-wing. But in the sense that the show also says "foreigners keep out" it espouses a right wing message. By the time I came to write up my piece for the Weekly, I'd decided that the left-wingness wins over the right-wingness. But when I blogged about the show soon after seeing it, I guess my thoughts weren't quite settles. Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. You can read my essay about the show here:
    http://www.sfweekly.com/2008-01-23/culture/one-man-polemic/full
    or by going to the work section of my website and scrolling down a few articles...
    Best
    Chloe

    By Blogger Chloe, At February 4, 2008 at 9:07 AM  

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